Relief Society Lesson 1: The First Vision
New year, new manual! Last January, bloggers from Exponent II and Zelophehad’s Daughters joined forces to provide lesson plans based on the Relief Society manual. These quickly became our most popular feature (in particular, we receive hundreds of google hits on Friday and Saturday night . . . . good to know I’m not the only Mormon procrastinator!). We try to post lessons the Tuesday before the 2nd and 3rd Sunday of the month. We hope you’ll check in and join the conversation.
The First Vision: The Father and the Son Appear to Joseph Smith
The first section briefly lays the groundwork for Joseph Smith’s remarkable vision — geography, time, the “spirit of religious fervor” sweeping through upstate New York. The subsequent sections draw exclusively from “Joseph Smith–History.” Because of its narrative form, I’d recommend reading key quotes in chronological order, stopping to discuss at key junctures.
Question 1: Notice “Joseph Smith–History” is located in the Pearl of Great Price . . . which means that Joseph’s memoir of his early life is part of the LDS canon of scripture. What constitutes scripture? In what way is Joseph Smith’s story similar to other men and women whose lives are discussed in scripture? (I can see parallels with Samuel, Abraham, Mary, and Moses — among others — people who received revelations in their youth, people who took personal risks based on their revelation, people who sought to bridge the relationship between deity and humanity).
Question 2: Joseph Smith was 14 at the time of his seminal vision — about the same age as Mary when the Angel Gabriel appeared with his startling message. This stands in contrast to the examples — past and present — of elderly prophets. Does this provide any insights about revelation? About intergenerational relationships? (I love this from Joel 28:8-9: “I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions. And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit.”)
Question 3: Note the emotions and thought Joseph Smith describes in the months leading up his vision (see pages 29-30 of manual — “serious reflection”; “great uneasiness”; “deep and poignant” feelings; “desire”; “at times my mind was greatly excited”; “I often said to myself: What is to be done? . . .how shall I know?”; “extreme difficulties”). Reflect on these phrases. What application do they hold for us? For me, they seem acknowledge the role of uncertainty — even confusion — in our spiritual lives. He engaged in serious reflection, he allowed himself “deep and poignant” emotions, he listened to diverse opinions — he hungered. And then he took it to God. He went pour out his soul in his “wilderness” — literally (the woods) and figuratively (see Alma 34: 26).
Question 4: Building on question three, Joseph Smith “retired to the woods” to pray. While we can’t do such a thing every day, are there ways we can “retire to the woods”? What do our woods look like — how do we find time apart, on occasion, to lay ourselves bare before God?
Question 5: Before his vision, Joseph Smith felt “thick darkness” surround him. Compare this experience with the record of Moses in The Pearl of Great Price (See Moses, Chapter 1).
Question 6: The substance of Joseph’s vision — two distinct personages — is at the crux of some of the arguments that insist Mormons are not “Christian.” In the last conference — October 2007 — Elder Jeffrey Holland discussed this at length. May be worth reading through that talk.
Question 7: When Joseph spoke with adults outside of his family about his vision, he experienced “prejudice” and “great persecution.” This parallels the story of many preachers and saints. But how is it instructive for us — both as potential objects of ridicule (even occasionally in the national press) and as potential ridiculers. When people come to us with their deep beliefs — even beliefs we do not agree with; how should we , as followers of Christ and progeny of Joseph Smith, respond?